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SEEN IT ALL: Hollins House chef Michael Alonzo's office has one of the best views in town.

House Special

Comfort food classics get an upscale update at Hollins House

By Christina Waters

LAST WEEK we enjoyed dinner in the cozy Tap Room at Hollins House, where a sensational meal took us by storm. I've always been partial to this hilltop location, where even at night the view of the town and ocean far below shimmers delightfully. Housed in the graceful residence of former championship golfer Marian Hollins, the restaurant currently boasts an appealing menu of well-made, beautifully presented dishes at friendly prices. Flat-screen televisions have been placed discreetly at both ends of the vintage bar, and hardwood wainscoting nicely sets off the corner fireplace and deep green walls.

Our skillful server provided expertise as well as helpful tastes of wines to assist us in choosing from the two dozen wines by the glass on the eclectic Hollins House list. We decided on an Alfaro Family Vineyards Pinot Noir 2007 ($11) and a Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc ($9), both fine with our meals to come.

A basket of warm bread arrived along with our split order of māche salad ($7) and an appetizer of sweet potato gnocchi with basil, brown butter and a dusting of parmesan ($6.95). The gnocchi, tender and freshly made, were so good we ate every last one. The lovely composed salads proved irresistible. In a large "cup" of purple radicchio lay a mound of the delicate, peppery lettuce. Two vinaigrettes were provided, as well as ample quantity of feta cheese, walnuts, endive, sliced pears and a few crimson cherry tomatoes. It was hard to save room for our entrees, but we managed.

Good thing, too. Both dishes were terrific. My Kobe beef stroganoff, rich with tender meaty intensity on a bed of egg noodles ($20), and Katya's inventive giant sushi creation of tuna wrapped inside seared salmon ($24) were both utterly delicious. Especially the seafood creation, served with a large portion of sticky steamed rice laced with zest of zucchini and red peppers. Braised baby bok choy added a jolt of chartreuse next to four large-scale sushi rolls on a pool of two sauces, one a sweet and sour plum sauce, the other a zippy wasabi.

We both coveted this dish, especially the warm, luscious salmon. Even though there was every possible opportunity for the kitchen to apply salt to each dish, restraint had been exercised. The salt choice was ours. I wish more dining rooms were that confident of their handiwork.

But now I get to the actual heart of this meal: dessert.

The Hollins House menu offers ample pastry temptation, but it was a croissant bread pudding ($8) sauced with Knob Creek bourbon glaze that called out to us. Deciding to share a single portion, we surrendered completely to a large rectangle of quivering, warm, feather-light bread pudding glazed with the warm masculine tones of caramelized whisky. Think heartland American tiramisu. Not only was the pudding itself creamy and light, it was joined by freshly whipped cream that made my palate an offer it couldn't (or wouldn't) refuse. A remarkably pampering, completely satisfying finish to this excellent meal.

Hollins House—who knew it was the next hot and affordable dining room in Santa Cruz?

Hollins House at Pasatiempo

20 Clubhouse Road, Santa Cruz


Open Mon–Fri 8:30am–9pm; Sat–Sun 7:30am–9pm

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